Discipline & Desire
The Guild is a solid, tangible, physical place; and the Guild is also a fluid community with highly permeable boundaries. One of the things that unifies these two disparate realities is the many-layered conversation that takes place at the Guild — both within the space of these walls and within the relationships of this community. It’s an ongoing conversation at the intersection of spirituality and art, and the way we go about practicing both — a steady search for common ground among the many diverse perspectives, values, and experiences that are a part of the Guild.
Like most things in a community, it’s a conversation that doesn’t belong to any one person. It existed long before most of us heard of the Guild, and it will continue just fine without us once we are gone. But in this present moment, we are a part of this community and this conversation, and we share the opportunity (and the responsibility) to add to it and take from it as we are able. Participating in this conversation has given me reason to think a lot over the past few days about the intense discipline and desire necessary to an artist.
In my teaching, I have mostly focused on the discipline that my students will need if they are to become accomplished artists. I know that their visions will not become reality by accident, but will require many hard hours in the studio — the long period of gestation during which a young artist’s technical skills and creative vision develop their mature power. It is a time marked by the making of mistakes, and also by the finding and fixing of mistakes. It is a time marked by high hopes, and by projects that fall short of those hopes. It is a time marked, for many of us, by intense frustration.
I believe it’s that frustration that most often foils would-be artists. The technical skills take time do develop, but they can be learned through steady work. What cannot be learned is the intense, stubborn desire necessary to keep on picking up the chisel or camera or paintbrush, and to keep on working even in the face of frustration and failure. It’s a hunger that must be fierce enough and focused enough to overcome the fear of risk or failure. As a teacher, I can model that in my own life and work, but the desire itself must be their own. Only they can seek out and discover the gnawing hunger in their own tight bellies — the hunger that will not be satisfied until the fleeting vision has been given solid flesh.
In the end, that is what it means to be an artist — to live and work in the tension of focused discipline and fiery desire. It’s what I try to foster in my own studio practice, and what I hope my students will be able to discover for themselves.